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Alfredo Ruiz-Barradas and Sumant Nigam

Abstract

The present work assesses spring and summer precipitation over North America as well as summer precipitation variability over the central United States and its SST links in simulations of the twentieth-century climate and projections of the twenty-first- and twenty-second-century climates for the A1B scenario.

The observed spatial structure of spring and summer precipitation poses a challenge for models, particularly over the western and central United States. Tendencies in spring precipitation in the twenty-first century agree with the observed ones at the end of the twentieth century over a wetter north-central and a drier southwestern United States, and a drier southeastern Mexico. Projected wetter springs over the Great Plains in the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries are associated with an increase in the number of extreme springs. In contrast, projected summer tendencies have demonstrated little consistency. The associated observed changes in SSTs bear the global warming footprint, which is not well captured in the twentieth-century climate simulations.

Precipitation variability over the Great Plains presents a coherent picture in spring but not in summer. Models project an increase in springtime precipitation variability owing to an increased number of extreme springs. The number of extreme droughty (pluvial) events during the spring–fall part of the year is under(over)estimated in the twentieth century without consistent projections.

Summer precipitation variability over the Great Plains is linked to SSTs over the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, with no apparent ENSO link in spite of the exaggerated variability in the equatorial Pacific in climate simulations; this has been identified already in observations and atmospheric models forced with historical SSTs. This link is concealed due to the increased warming in the twenty-first century. Deficiencies in land surface–atmosphere interactions and global teleconnections in the climate models prevent them from a better portrayal of summer precipitation variability in the central United States.

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Sumant Nigam and Alfredo Ruiz-Barradas

Abstract

The monotony of seasonal variability is often compensated by the complexity of its spatial structure—the case in North American hydroclimate. The structure of hydroclimate variability is analyzed to provide insights into the functioning of the climate system and climate models.

The consistency of hydroclimate representation in two global [40-yr ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-40) and NCEP] and one regional [North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR)] reanalysis is examined first, from analysis of precipitation, evaporation, surface air temperature (SAT), and moisture flux distributions. The intercomparisons benchmark the recently released NARR data and provide context for evaluation of the simulation potential of two state-of-the-art atmospheric models [NCAR's Community Atmospheric Model (CAM3.0) and NASA's Seasonal-to-Interannual Prediction Project (NSIPP) atmospheric model].

Intercomparisons paint a gloomy picture: great divergence in global reanalysis representations of precipitation, with the eastern United States being drier in ERA-40 and wetter in NCEP in the annual mean by up to a third in each case; model averages are like ERA-40. The annual means, in fact, mask even larger but offsetting seasonal departures.

Analysis of moisture transport shows winter fluxes to be more consistently represented. Summer flux convergence over the Gulf Coast and Great Plains, however, differs considerably between global and regional reanalyses. Flux distributions help in understanding the choice of rainy season, especially the winter one in the Pacific Northwest; stationary fluxes are key.

Land–ocean competition for convection is too intense in the models—so much so that the oceanic ITCZ in July is southward of its winter position in the both simulations! The overresponsiveness of land is also manifest in SAT; the winter-to-summer change over the Great Plains is 5–9 K larger than in observations, with implications for modeling of climate sensitivity.

The nature of atmospheric water balance over the Great Plains is probed, despite unbalanced moisture budgets in reanalyses and model simulations. The imbalance is smaller in NARR but still unacceptably large, resulting from excessive evaporation in spring and summer. Adjusting evaporation during precipitation assimilation could lead to a more balanced budget.

Global and regional reanalysis will remain of limited use for hydroclimate studies until they comply with the operative water and energy balance constraints.

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Alfredo Ruiz-Barradas and Sumant Nigam

Abstract

The Mekong River is the lifeblood of the Southeast (SE) Asian economies. In situ and satellite-based precipitation are analyzed to assess the amount of water received as precipitation in the river basin (Mekong basin water), in particular, the amount each country receives. Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia contribute ~75% of the basin water during March–September, whereas China’s contribution is 10%–15%, except in winter when it rises to 25%. The processing of Mekong basin water into Mekong streamflow entails accounting for the uncertain water losses but, interestingly, interannual variations in Mekong basin water can be processed into Mekong streamflow using a simple hydrologic model, which is validated using monthly river discharge data from four stations. Preliminary evidence for the impact of upbasin dams on downstream flow, especially the timing of peak summer flow, is presented. Characterization of El Niño’s influence on SE Asian rainfall reveals significant rainfall reductions in the fall preceding and the spring following El Niño’s peak phase (winter); such reductions at the bookends of the dry season in SE Asia (winter) generate droughts, as in 2015–16. The linear trend in twentieth-century rainfall assesses the vulnerability of the region to climate change. The analysis indicates the feasibility of streamflow prediction using a simple hydrologic model driven by high-resolution precipitation observations and forecasts. It raises the prospects of drought prediction based on El Niño’s emergence/forecast. Finally, by showing the Mekong to be largely a rain-fed and not snowmelt-fed river, it provides quantitative context for assessing the notion of Chinese control on the lower Mekong via upbasin dams.

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Alfredo Ruiz-Barradas and Sumant Nigam

Abstract

The annual cycle of precipitation and the interannual variability of the North American hydroclimate during summer months are analyzed in coupled simulations of the twentieth-century climate. The state-of-the-art general circulation models, participating in the Fourth Assessment Report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), included in the present study are the U.S. Community Climate System Model version 3 (CCSM3), the Parallel Climate Model (PCM), the Goddard Institute for Space Studies model version EH (GISS-EH), and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Coupled Model version 2.1 (GFDL-CM2.1); the Met Office’s Third Hadley Centre Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere GCM (UKMO-HadCM3); and the Japanese Model for Interdisciplinary Research on Climate version 3.2 [MIROC3.2(hires)]. Datasets with proven high quality such as NCEP’s North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR), and the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) U.S.–Mexico precipitation analysis are used as targets for simulations.

Climatological precipitation is not easily simulated. While models capture winter precipitation very well over the U.S. northwest, they encounter failure over the U.S. southeast in the same season. Summer precipitation over the central United States and Mexico is also a great challenge for models, particularly the timing. In general the UKMO-HadCM3 is closest to the observations.

The models’ potential in simulating interannual hydroclimate variability over North America during the warm season is varied and limited to the central United States. Models like PCM, and in particular UKMO-HadCM3, exhibit reasonably well the observed distribution and relative importance of remote and local contributions to precipitation variability over the region (i.e., convergence of remote moisture fluxes dominate over local evapotranspiration). However, in models like CCSM3 and GFDL-CM2.1 local contributions dominate over remote ones, in contrast with warm-season observations. In the other extreme are models like GISS-EH and MIROC3.2(hires) that prioritize the remote influence of moisture fluxes and neglect the local influence of land surface processes to the regional precipitation variability.

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Alfredo Ruiz-Barradas and Sumant Nigam

Abstract

Interannual variability of warm-season rainfall over the Great Plains is analyzed using the recently released North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR). The new dataset differs from its global counterparts in the additional assimilation of precipitation and radiances. This along with the use of a more comprehensive land surface model in generation of NARR offers the prospect of obtaining improved estimates of surface hydrologic and near-surface meteorological fields.

NARR’s representation of hydroclimate is used to weigh in on the authors’ recent finding of the dominance of large-scale moisture flux convergence over evaporation in accounting for Great Plains precipitation variations. Evaporation estimates are notoriously uncertain and, while the NARR ones are not assured to be realistic, they are more constrained than those diagnosed before from inline and offline assessments.

NARR’s portrayal of warm-season hydroclimate variability corroborates the importance of remote water sources in generation of Great Plains precipitation variability and supports the authors’ claim that some state-of-the-art atmosphere/land surface models vigorously recycle precipitation, erroneously, at least in context of Great Plains interannual variability. These very models have been key to recent claims of strong coupling between soil moisture and precipitation.

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Alfredo Ruiz-Barradas and Sumant Nigam

Abstract

Interannual variability of Great Plains precipitation in the warm season months is analyzed using gridded observations, satellite-based precipitation estimates, NCEP reanalysis data and the 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40) data, and the half-century-long NCAR Community Atmosphere Model (CAM3.0, version 3.0) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Seasonal-to-Intraseasonal Prediction Project (NSIPP) atmospheric model simulations. Regional hydroclimate is the focus because of its immense societal impact and because the involved variability mechanisms are not well understood.

The Great Plains precipitation variability is represented rather differently, and only quasi realistically, in the reanalyses. NCEP has larger amplitude but less traction with observations in comparison with ERA-40. Model simulations exhibit more realistic amplitudes, which are between those of NCEP and ERA-40. The simulated variability is however uncorrelated with observations in both models, with monthly correlations smaller than 0.10 in all cases. An assessment of the regional atmosphere water balance is revealing: Stationary moisture flux convergence accounts for most of the Great Plains variability in ERA-40, but not in the NCEP reanalysis and model simulations; convergent fluxes generate less than half of the precipitation in the latter, while local evaporation does the rest in models.

Phenomenal evaporation in the models—up to 4 times larger than the highest observationally constrained estimate (NCEP’s)—provides the bulk of the moisture for Great Plains precipitation variability; thus, precipitation recycling is very efficient in both models, perhaps too efficient.

Remote water sources contribute substantially to Great Plains hydroclimate variability in nature via fluxes. Getting the interaction pathways right is presently challenging for the models.

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Alfredo Ruiz-Barradas and Sumant Nigam

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The Department of Energy Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program (ARM) Southern Great Plains (SGP) site data are analyzed to provide insight into atmosphere–land surface interactions generating summertime precipitation variability. Pentad-averaged (5 days) data are analyzed; the average is long enough to suppress synoptic variability but sufficiently short to resolve atmosphere–land surface interactions. Intercomparison with the precipitation-assimilating North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) helps with in-depth investigation of the processes. The analysis seeks to ascertain the process sequence, especially the role of evapotranspiration and soil-moisture–radiation feedbacks in the generation of regional precipitation variability at this temporal scale.

Transported moisture dominates over evapotranspiration in precipitation variability over the region, from both magnitude of the contribution to regional water balance and its apparent temporal lead at pentad resolution. Antecedent and contemporaneous evapotranspiration are found to be negatively correlated with precipitation, albeit statistically insignificant; only lagging correlations are positive, peaking at 2-pentad lag following precipitation, substantiating the authors’ characterization of the water balance over SGP, and extending the authors’ previous findings on the dominance of moisture flux convergence in generating precipitation variability at monthly scales.

Precipitation episodes are linked with net negative surface radiation anomalies (i.e., with an energy-deprived land surface state that cannot fuel evapotranspiration), ruling out radiatively driven positive feedback on precipitation. Although the net longwave signal is positive because of a colder land surface (less upward terrestrial radiation), it is more than offset by the cloudiness-related reduction in downward shortwave radiation. Thus, ARM (NARR) data do not support the soil-moisture–precipitation feedback hypothesis over the SGP at pentad time scales; however, it may work at subpentad resolution and over other regions.

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Alfredo Ruiz-Barradas and Sumant Nigam

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The present study assesses the potential of the U.S. Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) Drought Working Group (DWG) models in simulating interannual precipitation variability over North America, especially the Great Plains. It also provides targets for the idealized DWG model experiments investigating drought origin. The century-long Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project (AMIP) simulations produced by version 3.5 of NCAR’s Community Atmosphere Model (CAM3.5), the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s Community Climate Model (CCM3), and NASA’s Seasonal-to-Interannual Prediction Project (NSIPP-1) atmospheric models are analyzed; CCM3 and NSIPP-1 models have 16- and 14-ensemble simulations, respectively, while CAM3.5 only has 1.

The standard deviation of summer precipitation is different in AMIP simulations. The maximum over the central United States seen in observations is placed farther to the west in simulations. Over the central plains the models exhibit modest skill in simulating low-frequency precipitation variability, a Palmer drought severity index proxy. The presence of a linear trend increases correlations in the period 1950–99 when compared with those for the whole century. The SST links of the Great Plains drought index have features in common with observations over both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Interestingly, summer-to-fall precipitation regressions of the warm Trend, cold Pacific, and warm Atlantic modes of annual mean SST variability (used in forcing the DWG idealized model experiments) tend to dry the southwestern, midwestern, and southeastern regions of the United States in the observations and, to a lesser extent, in the simulations.

The similarity of the idealized SST-forced droughts in DWG modeling experiments with AMIP precipitation regressions of the corresponding SST principal components, evident especially in the case of the cold Pacific pattern, suggests that the routinely conducted AMIP simulations could have served as an effective proxy for the more elaborated suite of DWG modeling experiments.

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Alfredo Ruiz-Barradas, James A. Carton, and Sumant Nigam

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This paper explores climate variability of the lower troposphere and boundary layer in the tropical Atlantic sector through a series of modeling simulations with a diagnostic primitive equation model. The focus is on the role that realistic diabatic heating and its vertical placement as well as surface temperature have in inducing/reinforcing the local monthly wind circulation, the role that thermal and momentum transients play in the Tropics, the potential for feedbacks, and the way through which other basins influence the tropical Atlantic region. NCEP–NCAR reanalysis data for the period 1958–93 are used to provide forcing and model verification.

In the first part of the paper local effects are considered. It is found that the most important terms controlling anomalous surface winds over the ocean are boundary layer temperature gradients and diabatic heating anomalies at low levels (below 780 mb). Anomalous diabatic heating at mid- and upper levels (430–690 mb) contributes to the near-surface circulation poleward of 15° over the warm hemisphere. Anomalous diabatic heating over the African continent influences zonal winds well into the ocean. It is found that the anomalies of surface latent heat flux induced by the interhemispheric distribution of anomalies provide positive feedback on both sides of the equator, in the deep Tropics and west of 20°W. It provides negative feedback off the northwest coast of Africa.

In the second part the relative importance of remote forcing is considered. It is found that anomalous heating associated with interhemispheric gradients of surface temperature in the tropical Atlantic influence winds in the northern extratropics in a wavelike pattern during boreal spring. Anomalous heating associated with equatorial anomalies of surface temperature influence winds in the southern extratropics in a wavelike pattern during boreal summer. In contrast, the influence of heating in the midlatitudes is confined to the northern subtropics. Anomalous ENSO-related diabatic heating influences near-surface winds in the tropical Atlantic, which resembles the local response to interhemispheric gradients of surface temperature. This remote influence induces changes in the intensity of the Atlantic Walker and Hadley circulations as a consequence of the direct effect of heating in the eastern tropical Pacific.

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Scott J. Weaver, Alfredo Ruiz-Barradas, and Sumant Nigam

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The evolution of the atmospheric and land surface states during extreme hydroclimate episodes over North America is investigated using the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR), which additionally, and successfully, assimilates precipitation. The pentad-resolution portrayals of the atmospheric and terrestrial water balance over the U.S. Great Plains during the 1988 summer drought and the July 1993 floods are analyzed to provide insight into the operative mechanisms including regional circulation (e.g., the Great Plains low-level jet, or GPLLJ) and hydroclimate (e.g., precipitation, evaporation, soil moisture recharge, runoff).

The submonthly (but supersynoptic time scale) fluctuations of the GPLLJ are found to be very influential, through related moisture transport and kinematic convergence (e.g., ∂υ/∂y), with the jet anomalies in the southern plains leading the northern precipitation and related moisture flux convergence, accounting for two-thirds of the dry and wet episode precipitation amplitude. The soil moisture influence on hydroclimate evolution is assessed to be marginal as evaporation anomalies are found to lag precipitation ones, a lead–lag not discernible at monthly resolution. The pentad analysis thus corroborates the authors’ earlier findings on the importance of transported moisture over local evaporation in Great Plains’ summer hydroclimate variability.

The regional water budgets—atmospheric and terrestrial—are found to be substantially unbalanced, with the terrestrial imbalance being unacceptably large. Pentad analysis shows the atmospheric imbalance to arise from the sluggishness of the NARR evaporation, including its overestimation in wet periods. The larger terrestrial imbalance, on the other hand, has its origins in the striking unresponsiveness of the NARR’s runoff, which is underestimated in wet episodes.

Finally, the influence of ENSO and North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) variability on the GPLLJ is quantified during the wet episode, in view of the importance of moisture transports. It is shown that a significant portion (∼25%) of the GPLLJ anomaly (and downstream precipitation) is attributable to NAO and ENSO’s influence, and that this combined influence prolongs the wet episode beyond the period of the instigating GPLLJ.

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